Whatcom County has adopted regulations to minimize the amount of tree canopy removed in Lake Whatcom, Lake Samish, and Lake Padden watersheds. These rules will reduce stormwater impacts, protect drinking water quality, and improve the climate resiliency of our communities.
Tree canopy removal is divided into two categories:
1. Removal associated with a development proposal, such as construction of a new home, home expansion, road/driveway, deck, accessory building, other occupiable structure, or other land disturbing activities. Development activities are those projects which require a development permit(s) such as a building permit, Land Fill and Grade Permit, or subdivision permit.
2. Removal not associated with a development proposal, such as tree removal to enhance a view, provide additional open space, or create firewood, etc.
Note: the tree canopy retention requirements do not apply to forest practices regulated by the Department of Natural Resources.
Selected removal of hazardous tree(s) that imminently threaten people, structures, other physical improvements, or required access is not limited by the below rules. However, a Tree Removal Permit may still be required. Please see our Tree Removal Permit Application form for more details.
|Shoreline or Critical Area?|
If your property is located within a Shoreline Management Plan area (i.e. along a lake's shore) or Critical Area/buffer (i.e. within 200' of a stream or wetland), you may need a different permit. Please contact us at 360-778-5900 to determine the correct permit path.
Development may only remove up to a certain percentage of tree canopy that existed as of January 1, 2017, based on parcel size (see table below) OR 5,000 square feet of that tree canopy that existed as of January 1, 2017, whichever is greater.
Lot Size (acres)
Canopy Removal Allowance
Less than 1
1 to less than 3
3 to less than 10
10 or greater
Existing tree canopy information will be required with the development permit, as will a tree retention plan which shows standard site plan information along with the tree canopy areas to be removed and retained, tree canopy removal calculations, and applicable tree protection measures. For more guidance, see our Tree Removal Permit application form.
Note: the above summarizes just a few key provisions of Whatcom County tree canopy regulations. For complete rules, see WCC 20.51.440 for Lake Whatcom Watershed, or WCC 20.71.356 for Lake Samish/Lake Padden watersheds.
A Tree Removal Permit is required to remove any "Significant Tree." A Significant Tree is defined as any evergreen tree 12 inches or greater in diameter at breast height (DBH) or deciduous tree 8 inches or greater DBH. Diameter at breast height shall be measured four and one-half feet above existing grade.
Up to 20% of the tree canopy that existed as of January 1, 2017, may be removed. However, the total tree canopy removal shall not exceed 14,000 sq. ft. This amount is cumulative over time and will include any permitted tree removal since 2017. Incremental tree removal will count towards the total allowed amount.
Note: the above summarizes just a few key provisions of Whatcom County tree canopy regulations. Complete regulations are at WCC 20.51.430 for Lake Whatcom Watershed, and WCC 20.71.354 for Lake Samish/Lake Padden watersheds.
-- Unsure how much tree canopy existed as of January 1, 2017? Please contact us -- we have the aerial data.
-- For different ways to measure tree canopy, please refer to our “How to Measure Tree Canopy handout.